This is a crazy time of year to be on the water. There is just about everything swimming around in the water. Because of that, you have to be prepared for all the different types of fish. This time of the year, I carry a lot of rods on the boat — after all, I never know what I’m going to come across.
On my boat right now, you’ll find tarpon rods, shark rods, redfish and snook rods, and trout rods. All of them are rigged and ready. I’ve learned the hard way that I may be fishing for a certain species when the next thing you know, a different type of fish swims by.
For example, you might be out fishing in the flats for trout with a lighter rod. Then, suddenly, there goes a cobia swimming by the boat. You don’t have a lot of time to get a bait in front of it. You have to react now. That ultralight trout rod you’re holding is gonna feel pretty wimpy with a 40-pound fish on the other end. If you’re prepared, though, you just grab a bigger rod and make the cast.
Many fishermen are focused on tarpon fishing right now. Where there are tarpon, there are usually big sharks swimming around. They’re fun to catch, but if you don’t have a rod already rigged up with a steel leader, it’s too late by the time you see one.
Again, having a rod ready to go is the key. All you have to do is put a piece of bait on the hook and get it in the water. I’m always ready for this, because everyone knows the tarpon bite is not always that great. If I see a shark swimming around and the tarpon aren’t playing — well, heck, that shark will put up a good fight and we keep our rods bent.
When you’re putting all those rods on the boat, remember you’re going to need bait or lures for them too. You can usually catch ladyfish to keep whole or chunk up, or jacks for shark bait. But I’ll still bring a couple frozen ladyfish or mullet just in case. That’s bait insurance, because there are times when you really, really need just one baitfish and there are absolutely none to be had. Learned that the hard way, too.
If I’m doing general inshore fishing, I always have shrimp on the boat. It’s the bottom of the food chain. Everything eats shrimp: Snapper, sheepshead, trout, redfish, snook, black drum, tarpon of all sizes. Heck, even sharks eat shrimp. I always have some with me. I’ll get pinfish and greenbacks when I can.
It’s the buffet plan. I love buffets — you can choose whatever you want from a big variety. And that’s what I bring on the boat: A big variety of baits. Don’t assume what the fish want. Offer it to them and let them tell you.
It would be a real shame if you brought all the rods and bait but forgot different types of terminal tackle: Hooks, jigheads, steel leader, floats, splitshots, etc. It’s not a good feeling to realize that the fish that’s biting best is the one you weren’t ready for. Being ready for anything means bringing everything.
One last tip: Get out early and get back in early so you don’t have to be out in the middle of the day. Fishing usually isn’t as good at the hottest times anyway. The bite will be better early or late.
Capt. Karl Butigian lives, breathes and eats Florida fishing. He owns and operates KB Back Country Charters (KBBackCountryChartersFishing.com) on the waters of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. To book a trip or for info, call him at 941-565-7325.